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AVE, photo: O’Meally - extended interview

Over the years, a handful of photos of Anthony Van Engelen have stood...
AVE, photo: O'Meally - A print retrospective celebrating the career of Anthony Van Engelen through the lens of Mike O'Meally

Over the years, a handful of photos of Anthony Van Engelen have stood out to me. I've found them in a variety of published formats (front covers, incidentals, scanned into Chrome Ball interviews) and, although they resonate for different reasons, a common thread between them is they're all shot by Mike O'Meally.

So, when the opportunity arose to work on AVE-based project with Welcome and Vans (with the broad brief of “Write something about AVE that isn't an interview with him”) I wasted little time in proposing the following article to Mike.

On the date we’d arrange to talk, I received a surprisingly early text from him reading: “Yo! I’m awake for some ungodly reason – shall we crack on?” It was 4am in his part of the world but, sleep deprivation aside, he spoke at length of his time shooting, skating and travelling with AVE - spanning from their first encounters in late 1990s New York through to a selection of photos from the ‘Mind Field’ era.

Prior to the original date intended to set this article live, I gave Mike a heads up and made an off the cuff comment that this would have been a solid premise for a print publication. "Print sounds good. Let's do it," was Mike's response. And after many late nights of raiding his archives, exchanging phone calls and internationally shooting PDFs back and forth, ‘AVE, photo: O’Meally’ came off the printers.

The photobook/zine launched at the shop in late August. It was limited to 150 copies and featured a selection of iconic and previously unpublished photos of AVE alongside the aforementioned interview with Mike. For those who didn't manage to get their hands on a copy from the shop, it would be remiss not to make this story available. So, with that in mind, here’s an extended transcript of the interview featured in ‘AVE, photo: O’Meally’ and the original selection photos which served as the foundation for this piece.

Introduction and interview by Farran Golding. Photography by Mike O’Meally.

Mike O’Meally, self portrait, 1996. Courtesy of The Chrome Ball Incident.

Mike O'Meally, self portrait, 1992. Courtesy of The Chrome Ball Incident.

Before we get into the photos I sent over I wanted to talk about your own friendship with AVE. I know you guys met through Dill, after you moved to New York in the late 1990s, and that kind of lead to you shooting for Alien Workshop further down the line. What can you remember about that period and meeting AVE for the first time? 

I remember AVE used to come out and skate with Dill so that’s how I met him. I was still pretty young. Well, I say “pretty young” but I was probably 24 or 25 at the time. I don’t know if it was because there wasn’t many photographers in New York, or what, but we just seemed to hit it off.

Anthony still doesn’t, but he never really talked too much back then. He’s the type of guy that will talk without saying anything. He’ll either talk with his eyes or just through a laugh. I’ve always said: “He lets you sink your own boat,” [laughs].

But he was like that back then too. We would skate a lot. We were friends but I wouldn’t say I got to know him better until quite a bit later. It was a definitely a skate/photo type of situation, you know? Where I was happy to go skate with those guys and they seemed cool skating with me so that was nice. It wasn’t too complicated, honestly, [laughs].

What are you earliest memories of skating and shooting with AVE?

The first thing that pops to mind is when we shot the sequence in Chinatown of that rail that everyone goes over the back of. I think he was actually the first one to do that. He went over the back to 5050 but I think I’d known him for a little bit by then. That was about the year 2000. 

As of right now, talking to you, that’s the first thing I can remember. There might have been something sooner but I can’t think what it is off the top of my head. That’s certainly the one that stands out though.

Anthony Van Engelen, over-the-back 5050, New York, 2000. photo: Mike O'MeallyAnthony Van Engelen, over-the-back 5050, New York, 2000. Originally published in Skateboarder Magazine, Sept/Oct 2000, Vol. 10 #10. photo: Mike O’Meally

Around this time you also got to know Anthony Pappalardo, Brian Wenning, Rob Pluhowski and Josh Kalis from shooting in Philadelphia. How Anthony’s skating compare to the other Alien Workshop and Habitat riders who you’d find yourself regularly surrounded by?

He was definitely a little bit older. He was still younger than me but not by much – just a couple of years. But they were kids and he was in his mid to early 20s so he was just physically more powerful and confident. You could just tell he’d taken more slams over the years. Not that those guys hadn’t but he just had more grit and salt in the game of skateboarding, you know?

Honestly, he just pushed more at tricks, [laughs]. He just went faster. That’s what really stood out. Pappalardo, we had this nickname for him: Mr Burns - because he was kind of meek and not physically imposing at all but when he’d get on a board he would really come out of his shell.Whereas Anthony had the appearance of a cowboy. We always joked that he looked like a Marlboro Man. That’s just [when he was] walking around and then the same thing applied to his skating. He was just physically a strong a guy. He’s not big guy but he’s built for speed and power. 

That’s the main difference you would notice with skating with those guys. He would go faster, he would grind longer and just put more juice into everything, I guess. It’s not that those guys didn’t but he just had an extra gear on him that nobody else seemed to have.

And certainly him and Dill skating together, they would push each other. They were on a similar kind of…

Level.

Yeah, Dill’s pretty powerful too.

AVE, Dill, Gino Iannucci and Dylan Rieder are the people you have shot which spring to mind for me who –

Don’t forget Freddy Gall too, [laughs]. He was a big influence on all those guys, really. You might not ever hear that but he was doing a lot of that stuff from a really young age. He got on the Workshop when he was like 12 or 13 years old, I think, so he was already a powerful skater himself and obviously powerful at other things in life too.

[Laughs], for sure. Going back to what I was saying; AVE, Dill, Gino and Dylan are guys you have shot which stand out, to me anyway, as they’re powerful and have real distinct styles. Why do you think you’ve been drawn to people of that disposition over the years?

Well, it’s easy to look back and say I was drawn to them but honestly, without sounding too blasé about it, it really just worked out that way. I mean, I’ve shot a lot of skaters, not just those guys, but those are the ones that seemed to stand out over the course of time, you know? It wasn’t that I exclusively shot those guys, I just got lucky in that I happened to shoot some of the best moves they did. They did lots of other really good stuff. I feel fortunate to have captured some of it.

When you put it together in one sentence that’s four major icons of speed, power and style right there on one hand. It was never conscious… Maybe it was a subconscious thing, I don’t know. With the benefit of retrospect it’s easy to say: “I shot these four guys,” but I used to shoot a lot of different people. Maybe those ones just stood out for whatever reason but I didn’t personally single them out as: “Oh, these are the guys I’m really going to go after.”

Honestly, I’ve shot maybe ten things of Gino in total. It just so happens that they were fucking gnarly.

AVE, photo: O'Meally

Anthony has a reputation of being perfectionist. What it’s like to witness that drive first-hand?

Just off the top of my head I have a folder in my hard-drive, which is not exclusive to him, but it’s called ‘Board Throwers’. Basically the Kerry Getz type situation where things aren’t going the way you want, you’re having a bad day so you just end up focusing your board, or tossing it to the ground, or hurling it into the air. I’ve certainly got a few of those of Anthony, [laughs].

He was just one of those guys who wouldn’t settle for something he wasn’t happy with and who could see that if you’ve put in two hours of work to get something, what difference is another hour going to make if you’re already that far in?

He just had, #1: the work ethic and #2: I don’t think he was one of those self-critical perfectionists, he’s just honest and has a very open outlook of how certain tricks should look, how fast you should be going or about popping out in a solid manner. He held himself to a really high standard and that would often lead to doing things again or until he couldn’t walk anymore.

I have this one picture where he’s bleeding through his socks and that kind of sums him up. He would just keep going. He’s had problems with his toes and feet where he had to tape them before every session and he would be skating with a lot of pain. Cortisone injections and stuff like that. So, on top of wanting to do things well and being powerful and stylish and all of that – he’s a tough guy. I would not want to get in any kind of trouble with him, [laughs]. 

Is there an instance where you’ve witnessed him film a trick, which was perfectly fine in your eyes, but he’s insisted on doing it again? 

I’m sure there has been, I couldn’t name one off the top of my head for you but, generally, as I was trying to say – I don’t think he’s critical to the point of being self-critical. He’s more the type of guy where it’s not whether or not he’s doing it perfect, it’s more a matter of trying something so hard that even to land it sometimes it’s enough. But when he’s on - he’s really on, you know what I mean? When he’s filming, shooting and skating; he has these ‘basic’ flatland and ledge tricks that are really cool to watch and he just goes fucking fast. 

You watch him do a switch crooked grind, on say a two or three foot high ledge, and it’s like watching a truck come down the street. It might be really simple but it’s really loud and it’s really fast and you better not get in the way, [laughs].

Have you ever had any inclination he enjoys the suffering which comes with battling a trick?

Maybe just a wry smile, or a sinister grin, here and there, [laughs].

So, last question before we get into your photos of AVE. If there was one photo of Anthony that somebody else shot, which you wish you could have taken, what would it be?

Oh man, that’s a deep one. I might have to get back to you on that, [laughs].

There are plenty of [Anthony] Acosta photos I see and I’m just like, “Wow, that is a fucking good photo right there.” It’s not so much that I wish I shot it, I just have to give it respect. Certainly [Mike] Blabac as well, he’s shot more than a number of epic photos. Lance Dawes in the early SLAP and Thrasher days too - he shot some great photos of Anthony.

Those three shot some of the best photos of Anthony, in my opinion, anyway. Blabac, Dawes and Acosta. Most of the photos which Acosta has shot of Anthony in the last five to ten years – there hasn’t been one that’s even slightly under paramount level so I have to give it up to those guys. That’s an iconic duo.

Anthony Van Engelen, frontside bluntslide, 2006. photo: Mike O’Meally

Anthony Van Engelen, frontside bluntside, Texas, 2006. photo: Mike O’Meally

The first photo I wanted to talk about is Anthony’s frontside bluntslide around the curved ledge. I originally saw this on the cover of Alien Workshop’s Fall 2006 catalogue. Does that help jog your memory?

That’s in Texas, at a bus station in Houston, and that was hot. We were there around July or August, skating at two or three in the morning because it was too hot to skate during the day. It was quite hard [for him] to get all the way around but he got it. It’s nice when somebody is trying something for a while because, as a photographer, it allows you to think, “I’ve definitely got one from this angle.” It allows you to slowly experiment. It’s sort of scary when people land things first try, [laughs]. But that one, I was like: “Oh man, this has to be shot from here,” just because the curved bench looks so cool from the top. I was happy with how that photo turned out because of the glass wall. It looks cool and Anthony looks super solid on the bluntslide. That was a good one and I’m pretty sure it was shot in the middle of the night.

That was my impression. I’ve never seen the footage of this trick so I’ve always thought it would have just been you two guys in the early hours of the morning. The way it’s lit really evokes a sense of isolation and late night ambience.

I’m sure there is footage as Greg [Hunt] was there and definitely filmed it. But, yeah, nobody else was around other than some crackheads and maybe a sheriff would drive by. It was a ghost town.

Anthony is no stranger to manhandling curved ledges. How long was he skating this bench for?

I don’t remember him battling too hard for it. He probably landed it more than a few times. I don’t think he landed it straight away but I don’t remember him having too much trouble with that one. It was just making it all the way around, every time, then getting a nice clean pop off of the end. That’s how that one went.

Was this taken on a Hasselblad?

That’s correct, yeah.

I’ve heard Hasselblad fisheyes are notorious for being so wide that even if the flashes are placed way out of the shot you can still get lens flare. Was that any issue here?

That glass wall might have helped me. Also, you can see there’s a pillar to the left, some kind of wall. So, without getting too neeky about it all, I didn’t have too many problems. The toughest thing was that I had to stand up on top of the glass brick wall to shoot that photo. It wasn’t very wide so I probably toppled off a few times, [laughs].

The geometry of this photo has a very ‘Workshop’ feel to it. Did that occur to you at the time?

For sure. I was working for those guys so I knew there was a sort of unspoken aesthetic with Mike Hill. I knew what he was looking for but I would have shot it like that anyway. Being that it was Anthony and they were filming for Mind Field at the time it was just hand in glove, basically.

He [Mike Hill] isn’t a man of many words. I would have something to send him and then I might get a text or an email. I think the poster just showed up and I was like: “Oh cool, very cool,” [laughs]. That was a catalogue cover but I think they made a poster out of it and maybe an ad.

I love this photo because it’s so classically AVE. The trick on a curved ledge and his overall look; a trucker hat, plain clothes, the tattoos and he’s wearing Old Skools. His appearance and skating hasn’t changed or faltered in 15 years. Do you feel there’s a timeless quality to Anthony?

Oh absolutely, I would agree with you 100% on that. I don’t want to say he hasn’t advanced, because he definitely has, but he’s found his own groove a little more. He’s immune to the trends in skating now. He’s his own person whereas when he was younger he might have been doing certain tricks because… Actually, I don’t think I could even say that of him - that he was trying to keep up with what was current. Now he’s just a ‘skater’s skater’.

There’s only one Anthony Van Engelen and, with everything he has been through in his life, there’s a deep sense of self that has only become more apparent as time has gone by. The tricks, certainly, but harnessing the power, that drive and determination, has only grown from strength to strength since I first met him.

Anthony Van Engelen and Omar Salazar, Texas, 2007. photo: Mike O'MeallyAnthony Van Engelen & Omar Salazar, Texas, 2007. photo: Mike O’Meally

So, the next photo is Anthony and Omar Salazar bombing into the bank in Texas. Was this published anywhere?

Yes, that was in a TransWorld article I did called ‘So Solid Crew’ which was a pick of a bunch of my favourite skaters.

This would have been taken midway through filming for Mind Field. What can you remember about this particular trip?

That trip would have been Greg Hunt, obviously, Bill Strobeck, Jason Dill, Anthony, Omar, Dylan [Rieder] was on that trip and maybe Ed Selego was there too.

You know what? That trip was to Texas in November 2007 and Greg actually left to go to the Lakai Fully Flared premiere. A few of us were tempted to go for the night and come back. Then everyone stayed.

What lead you to this spot? Judging from the signs in the background it looks like it’s at the side of a highway. 

Yeah, it’s some kind of spillway for flood water coming off of the highway. I want to say the skater from Texas that we were with took us to that. One thing I always look at with that photo - Omar Salazar is a bit of a stuntman, a hellraiser, a daredevil, and he’s dropped in on some serious shit in his time. What I like about this picture is he’s going first and he’s already in the steep part. Anthony is, obviously, no slouch but if you look at his face, he’s like: “Oh shit.” That thing was steep, man. But [the problem] wasn’t just that it was steep, it was that you have to come out of the shoot and there was grass on one side and a wall on the other so if you got wobbles, or didn’t really know where to go, that’s when you would get hurt.

The footage of this photo appears for a few seconds in the introduction to Mind Field but I can’t remember seeing any tricks into this bank throughout the whole video. Which has always surprised me, because it looks amazing visually, but the lack of footage here now makes sense in light of what you just said.

If you look from the left side to the right side, say in the bottom eighth of the photo, there’s a mellow contact lens type shape. A concave. Its scooped out where you roll in, then there’s a big crack, and it’s scooped out again. There was that factor, alongside you land and come straight down the shoot. You’re not rolling out to flatground, basically. It was beyond the point of doing tricks. Maybe an ollie into it. I don’t even think Omar ollied into it, actually, and that’s saying something. That’ll tell you how gnarly that spot it, [laughs].

You touched on it a minute ago but their expressions certainly grab your attention. Especially because AVE usually appears so stoical and Omar’s footage often shows how excitable he is. Whereas here, AVE actually looks concerned and Omar is completely stone-faced.

Yeah, he was really concentrating on that landing, I think. It’s funny because it’s one of my photos where people have always said: “Oh, that photo is so cool,” and I’ve thought, “It’s just the guys dropping in on a bank.” The more I study it, there are details I catch on second viewing – like Omar’s belt is flapping. The way Anthony’s front truck is lifted up too gives you a sense that you can’t just roll in straight because you would hang up. You almost have to roll into it like a vert ramp. Also, that back transition behind them makes it look even crazier.

Did they take that before rolling into this?

Yeah, a little kickturn up that. Exactly.

Anthony Van Engelen, frontside 5050, New York, 2007. photo: O'MeallyAnthony Van Engelen, frontside 5050, New York, 2007. photo: Mike O’Meally

Next up is the frontside 5050 in New York which was AVE’s TransWorld cover back in April 2009. Where in New York is this spot and, to your knowledge, is it still there? I can’t recall seeing anyone else skate this.

This is somewhere along Houston Park, between Chrystie and Allen Street, down around south of Delancey. There was a clip of someone, maybe in BLESSED [2018]. I can’t remember who - but I remember seeing it, recently, and thinking: “Oh, someone else finally skated it.”

This is another one which passes by so quickly in Mind Field where the photo does more justice in showing how hard it must have been to skate this spot. AVE’s trucks are almost at a 45 degree angle and I imagine if his board levelled out he would have stopped dead. Truck bolts hit the wall and you’re fucked. That kind of situation.

Yeah, that ledge… If he grinded it 20 more times it would have disintegrated.

Did Anthony struggle with this one?

A little bit, for the first five or ten tries, then he just got in the zone. I remember him doing that one relatively quickly. He was certainly grinding them every try then just trying to get the ollie out. It was one of those that looked quite easy and quick, in the clip, but that’s a tough spot. Look how tall it is for starters. It’s almost waist-high.

It’s a tight squeeze and the position of his right hand suggests it might have been difficult not to touch the wall - either as he locked into or popped out of the 5050. Was this a one-and-done make or did he have to land it a few times?

He made two or three. He did one a little bit sketchy, one perfect and then thought: “Fuck it, I’ll try one more.” I definitely remember him landing it more than once but not exactly multiple times.

Skateboarders who have ongoing relationships with photographers and filmers often have their approach shaped by the person pointing a camera at them. In regards to that, do you think you’ve had any influence over the way Anthony skated throughout the time when you shot this and the other photos I picked out?

I don’t think so. He was always a guy who knew what he wanted to do. I lived in New York, and those guys would only come out every so often so I was always taking people to things I had found just from skating around. Actually, it might have been Strobeck’s idea to take him there, if I’m honest, because Bill lived close by in Chinatown. But as far as me having an influence over him, it was more about, “Hey, I’ve got this cool spot that you might like,” you know? I was never trying to tell him what tricks he should do or anything like that.

I know this 5050 is one your favourite cover photos. Does that come down to simply the trick and photo or because of the time in yours and Anthony’s life when it was taken?

Shit man, all of that really. Looking back on it the layout is pretty stock, it’s pretty ‘lad mag’ or whatever, but I thought it was a really suitable choice. It’s a super classic photo. It almost looks like he’s surfing, in a way, but it’s cement, a massive ledge, red New York City bricks. That’s what skateboarding looks like to me. It was nice [for it] to go on the cover, especially for him, but certainly for me I was happy with the photo. I thought it was a good choice on their behalf.

Backtracking to what I was saying about the relationship between photographers, filmers and skateboarders; how would you describe your friendship with Anthony in comparison to Greg Hunt who has documented, near enough, every milestone of his career on video for what’s now approaching twenty years?

Those guys are close beyond the level of any two men. Those guys have been to war together, and come back, and gone to war together again. They know each other inside and out. I would say I’m good friends with Anthony but, for Greg, there’s no comparison there whatsoever. Greg’s a confidant, a friend, an advisor, a father figure… Creatively, they work great together and being around those two, to witness that first-hand, is an honour.

Me and Anthony, it’s a bit more jovial. Whereas, their relationship is a little deeper and more serious. Having said that, he’s cool. He’s honest and straightforward so if I was ever acting out of line I’m sure he would have told me. AVE invited me with my new baby to a backyard BBQ he was having, I think it was the 4th of July when I had my first son. That was cool. I don’t see him a lot these days but every time I do he’s just a solid guy. He’s not the type of guy I’d feel the need to be around every day but he’s never flaked out on me, personally. He’s somebody you can be proud to call a friend.

Greg Hunt & Anthony Van Engelen, Texas, 2007. photo: Mike O'MeallyGreg Hunt & Anthony Van Engelen, Texas, 2007. photo: Mike O'Meally

On the subject of AVE and Greg, this is a suitable one to follow on with. What had occurred prior to this being taken?

I remember exactly where that was. We were in a small ditch in Texas, again, on the same trip as that drop-in photo. It was a two-to-three foot high ditch where he had done an alley-oop frontside 5-0 and a bunch of other tricks. I can’t remember what he filmed that night. It might have been a different line with a switch 5-0, or something-or-other, but it had been a long session. Another one of those where he was trying to get it perfect. That was the days of generator sessions.

Anthony’s sobriety really enforced his determination throughout Mind Field. What was different about the Anthony you first got to know, the younger and more reckless Anthony, and the person he became throughout Mind Field and has been ever since?

Well, I didn’t really get to spend too much time with the young and reckless Anthony. I definitely saw it, but I never got stuck with it, if that makes any sense, [laughs]. But this was a guy who would skate until three in the morning and look at you like: “Don’t blink your eyes for a minute if you can’t handle it. We’re on this trip. This is what we’re here to do. Let’s all go eat some shitty food. We’re in it.” At that point, that motivation is infectious. The tricks aren’t going to do themselves.

I’ll be honest with you, it was also exhausting. There were times where I’d go sleep in the van because, at certain points, they’re just filming to re-film things. There wasn’t always a photo to be had, or I’d already got the photo, but those were long days and long hours. If I remember anything it’s the dedication, motivation and perseverance.

I interviewed Greg last year and we spent a lot of time talking about his and Anthony’s relationship. I called them a “prolific duo.” Greg basically brushed that off and came back with: “It’s all him.”

That’s Greg for sure, he’s so humble.

What’s your take on their combined contribution to skateboarding?

Look at it this way. If, let’s say, Greg was a man of lesser strength of character and patience, he could have walked away from Anthony, many times, based on the fact Anthony had his own trials and tribulations with whatever he was going through. But Greg is somebody that… He’ll tell you himself that most of what he has got done is through just being there and not abandoning these guys whether they need him the most or they need him the least. He’s just there. He’s always present, he’s always calm, he’s consistent and he’s kind. Those are really strong characteristics you could say about somebody despite the fact he’s shockingly talented, he’s got great ideas and a great eye.

The main things I could tell you about Greg, especially being around Anthony, is that he’s patient, he’s persistent and he’s present. I think that’s really the pillars of their relationship. Greg has certainly stuck by all of those guys throughout everything. Success, failure, addiction - all of it. That’s just me being factual. Greg is a good friend of mine but that’s saying nothing of his vision as a filmmaker and photographer himself. But, if anything stands out about their relationship, it’s what I said earlier. Now, it has been 20-odd years later that I’ve known those guys for. It takes more than just a flash in the pan of brilliant ideas and talent to make something that long lasting. It goes a lot deeper. 

In your Chrome Ball interview you said: “Greg was always there with the healthy alternative,” for AVE - and Dill too. Is that what you’re alluding to?

Yeah, definitely, but even when they weren’t being healthy he was there, [laughs]. It’s not  like he ran away when shit was hitting the fan. He would just patiently wait without judgement. I’m sure he had words with them plenty of times. In fact, I know he did. I never witnessed it but Greg is certainly the guy who… You ever hear the expression ‘Speak softly but carry a big stick’? Basically, let your actions speak louder than your words. That’s Greg. His work speaks for itself but those guys could get pretty crazy at times and he was able to deflect it, or let it bounce off, without absorbing too much. He’s the lighthouse in the storm.

Anthony Van Engelen, Jason Dill & The Hat, Texas, 2006. photo: Mike O'MeallyGreg Hunt & Anthony Van Engelen, Texas, 2007. photo: Mike O’Meally

‘The Hat’

One day on the road, Heath Kirchart, Dylan Rieder and AVE happened across a beaver skin Stetson. “The concept of the cowboy hat started as a joke - kind of a crown for whoever gets a good trick. But with Heath, nothing is ever simple and soon The Hat became a complex game full of rules and rewards,” wrote Greg Hunt in the ‘Mind Field’ photo book. Filming a trick worthy of taking The Hat meant a notch was carved into it - allowing the wearer to ride shotgun indefinitely, pick which music was played in the van and choose where to eat until someone else laid their claim. AVE, Heath and Dylan also bought selection of pin badges to compliment The Hat wearer’s efforts. One badge, which boasted: “One shot, one kill,” never made it to The Hat, allegedly…

On a lighter note, we’re onto AVE, Dill and The Hat - an incidental from the interview you did with Greg, about Mind Field, which was featured in the same issue of TransWorld with AVE on the cover.

Oh, this one’s great.

Were you there when AVE, Heath and Dylan bought The Hat?

I don’t think so. That might have been a separate trip. It was already in existence, but not for long, before I took this photo. It’s got about 15, maybe 20, marks on it so it had probably been going for about six months when I first witnessed ‘The Hat’, [chuckles]. This would have been taken, again, at the end of 2006 so that’s probably a year or two in [to the video], I would think.

Can you remember this exact trip? The TWS caption is: “The Hat – marked up somewhere in the Deep South.”

This would have been between Texas and Atlanta or maybe Atlanta and New Orleans. I bet if you talked to Anthony or Dill and showed them this photo then they would remember. But Anthony is driving, and The Hat is on the dashboard, so I’m sure it would have been him that earned it.

I figured it would have been Dill because he’s riding shotgun.

Maybe you’re right, [laughs]. That was a good trip for Anthony though. He got a lot of tricks on that trip.

What springs to mind?

There was a half-cab crook, on a pretty tall rail, that was a sequence in his TransWorld interview. I shot almost half the TransWorld interview on that trip. There was a weird ditch in Texas where he did a frontside carve and ollied out at the end. There was a feeble and crooked grind on a pretty mellow kinked rail but you have to go out over the kerb.

What did The Hat look like by the end of Mind Field?

Oh wow, it was pretty good and marked up. It might have been adorned with a hat band and some kind of eagle feather as well.

Who earned the right to wear it the most throughout Mind Field and do you know if anyone still has it? 

I think the title holder was Heath but you’d have to check with Greg on this. I’m sure it’s still somewhere, I doubt it would have gotten thrown away. That thing is far too important to get rid of, [laughing].

AVE is in the driver’s seat, taking responsibility for the mission, and Dill is laid back all nonchalant and smoking a cigarette. Those postures really mirror the contrast between their lifestyles at this point.

Absolutely, and the sticker: ‘I’m so gothic I’m dead’ always cracks me up.

As AVE had gotten sober, but Dill was in a turbulent part of his life throughout the video, did they butt heads due to being in different frames of mind?

Anthony and Jason? Oh, 100%. I recall a trip to Athens, Greece – it was me, those two and Bill Strobeck. I think early 2008. Dill was still getting pretty saucy at the time. I remember walking downstairs into the hotel lobby and Dill was having a couple. Anthony got stuck into him about it.

“You haven’t been filming enough! We’re here to do this trip. You should be out skating.”

In classic Dill style, he was like: “Ah man, don’t worry about it,” [laughs].

What was the general vibe around them and do you have a favourite memory of AVE and Dill together?

Certainly that picture you picked. It taps into a good memory because of the banter. This is something you might not know. There was a shoebox in that van which had… Perfect example, remember when Ryan Sheckler did the Lynx ad? AVE would go through every new issue of TransWorld and Thrasher and if you had something, that was considered to be bait or kooky, your page would get torn out and put in the shoebox of shame, [laughing]. The conversations that would go on around that. Oh man, if you could be a fly on the wall in that van at that time. Ruthless. Trust me. Ruthless.

Who dished out the most shit? Dill?

Well, Dill for sure, because he’s dishing out shit all day long but, as I said earlier, Anthony was a man of few words so when he would say something, man, it would be crushing. You would hate to be that person, [laughs]. It was done in good spirits. I mean, it was pretty mean spirited but also with the ideals of keeping skateboarding legit. So, any kind of bad deodorant ad, or anything slightly commercially corrupt, just got crucified.

Anthony Van Engelen, over-the-back nosegrind, New York, 2007. photo: Mike O'MeallyAnthony Van Engelen, over-the-back nosegrind, New York, 2007. photo: Mike O’Meally

The last one is my favourite photo of AVE. The over-the-back nosegrind at Columbus Park. I always refer to this as ‘AVE’s Rail’ when I’m trying to describe it.

One thing I remember is there was always old Chinese men playing chess in the runway at the top of that.

Columbus has a similar mellow atmosphere to other New York spots like Tompkins Square Park or TF West. So, I imagine you wouldn’t have been hassled much while skating this rail. However, I was wondering, what are the differences in shooting skateboarding in pre-9/11 and post-9/11 New York?

Well, that would only make a difference at buildings which had security. Say, some nice ledges that you really wanted to go at - it became apparent you couldn’t do that as much anymore because there was ramped up security for fear of trucks being driven into buildings. If anything, those spots became more skate-able because there was less eyes on them. Plazas, ledges and fancy marble buildings became more off limits but for places like that it didn’t make too much of a difference.

Did this go down during the same New York mission as the frontside 5050 cover photo?

Now I think about it, he may have flown back out specifically just to get that. It took a few times, actually. I got the make that day because there’s a picture on the page [in TransWorld] of Strobeck checking the footage as well. This was one where I was a little nervous of whether I should have shot a sequence but I’d already shot the over-the-back 5050, the first thing he shot on that rail, [as a sequence] back in 2000 for Skateboarder Magazine. The photos I was already sitting on [for TransWorld] were all nice Hasselblad stills. I think Ben Colen shot an over-the-back 5-0 and I’ve shot Alex Olson do an over-the-back- feeble grind. They were sequences so I was like: “Man, I’ve got to shoot this in a different way.” It wasn’t super difficult to shoot but I was nervous it might look like a regular nosegrind but, because he’s so high up on the rail, hopefully you can tell it’s from over the back.

Yeah, if it was a side-on nosegrind he would be past the middle post of the handrail by the time he was on it.

See, there you go. Good. I need the skate nerds to help me out because sometimes I question myself on stuff like that. It was more of a choice, for me, where there had already been three sequences at this place so how do I make it look a bit different?

The over-the-back 5-0 appears in ‘Mind Field’ immediately followed by the footage of this. However, the spot looks slightly different as by the time he did this nosegrind the stairs had been painted red. How far apart did he put those tricks down?

I would think it would be at least a year, or two, but I’m totally guessing.

This is the first photo in AVE’s ‘Pro Spotlight’ interview and, above the text on that spread, there’s a photo of him sat on the stairs with someone checking a camera but their face is obscured. I didn’t realise that was Strobeck. What was dynamic like between him and Anthony?

Pretty good, actually, because Strobeck is jolly, he’s witty and he’s got good bants. He’s like… “Tibet Midler,” you know? What are some of the other ones… “Lord of the shrimps.” He’s got all these funny sayings. He has his own language, basically. I’m blanking on them now. He has a whole list of…

Puns. Like at the end of ‘joyride.’ [2014] when Gonz gets pulled over and he calls him ‘Markio Andretti’.

There you go. He’s got hundreds of those and he would be cracking Anthony up with stuff similar to that. He’s kind of a son of a gun, to be honest. Anthony would get in the zone, and in his head, but Bill always kept it positive, encouraging and just funny, man. He’s a funny guy, I can’t deny that. He’s a cracker.

Everything about this trick is hard. The rail is tall but there’s also a crack before the stairs so you would have to pop even earlier to make it over the back of the rail.

It’s an intimidating spot, isn’t it?

Yeah. How many times did he have to return for this trick?

This was the third visit back so when he did get it, he was quite relieved. “I’ve been buying plane tickets, coming out here and staying in hotels.” I thought: “This guy is on some shit.” I remember, not questioning it, but thinking: “Is this taking it a bit too seriously?” at the time. But he was dedicated and obviously wanted it. You don’t always realise the brevity of things like that when you’re just the photographer. It’s a little different when you’re shooting a video because you understand this concept of where you need a trick within a whole part. Looking back on it, I think: “Imagine if I wasn’t there and somebody else got to shoot it.” That’s just the way it goes sometimes. You can’t be too attached, I suppose.

He’s returned to this spot over the years - starting with Photosynthesis [2000], twice in Mind Field [2009], and then for his Propeller ender [2015]. What does revisiting one spot to constantly out-do himself say about Anthony as a person?

He’s a creature of habit. That’s what it says about him. He likes what he likes. He’ll tell you when he doesn’t like something and when he does like something he gives it 150% just to get the very best out of himself and what he thinks he can do. He’s the type of guy who doesn’t want to have a regret knowing he could have tried harder, and didn’t, and he’ll fight to the teeth for that.

Mike O'Meally, London, 2019. photo: Farran GoldingMike O'Meally, London, 2019. photo: Farran Golding

What do you think the younger Anthony, in the midst of all the chaos he went through, would think about his present-day self?

He might be shocked but he couldn’t feel anything but proud of himself. It’s easy to get fucked up and throw it all away. It’s the flick of a switch or a telephone call. To stay on it through failure and trial and adversity… Skating’s not easy man, especially at this level. There are only a handful of people that can do it - let alone stay with it. If anything, I think it’s more of a shocker that he did this rather than he didn’t. There would have been nothing wrong if he was just one of the best skaters, and he burnt bright, then said: “Look man, I’m retired now.” But to stay in the field, as to use the expression, to stay in the battle for this long… He’s a general, you know? He’s a leader. You can never replace a guy like that. There will only ever be one guy like that. We can do these interviews, and talk about the photos and the footage, but my favourite thing about shooting guys like this is you can’t ever really explain what makes him – him. You can try, but the most appealing thing to me is there has always been that little bit of mystery where you don’t quite know what he’s thinking. I think that’s my favourite thing about Anthony. You think you know him – but I don’t think you really know him, [laughs]. I don’t think anybody really knows him.

How do you think he’ll be remembered in skateboarding?

If you could take the spirit of Dogtown, all the way through to the advancement of the pressure flip and the technological era, then add a little bit of Zero and Flip in – in terms of going bigger, faster, higher, longer… Then take that mystery of the Alien Workshop, take that polish of DC and then onto Vans – that classic approach. You mix all of that up in a bucket and he’s got something of the best of all the best eras of skateboarding within him - and he’s still going. He’s not a guy who ever sat down and took it easy. And he’s just good to watch. Looking at a switch crooked grind from that guy is what it’s supposed to look like. When you hear an Independent truck grind a ledge like that, it sounds scary. It sounds like a building is falling down and that’s what it’s supposed to sound like.

AVE, photo: O'Meally back cover

The new AVE Pro from Vans is available in-store and online.

Words by Farran Golding: www.farrangolding.com

Photography by Mike O'Meally: www.mikeomeally.com

For further reading get stuck into our previous interview feature: 'Getting to know Elijah Berle with Corey Duffel'

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Episode 12 of season 9 is officially a 'barn burner' due to...

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Story time with Freddy is particularly incredible this week!

Hit Fred's epic switch frontside 5.0 from 1995 to listen.

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CLIKETY CLICK HERE to listen. 

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Getting to know Elijah Berle with Corey Duffel

A skateboarder’s ability to scrutinise and philosophise over minor details is a...

Getting to know Elijah Berle with Corey Duffel interview by Farran Golding Welcome Skate Store

A skateboarder’s ability to scrutinise and philosophise over minor details is a skill unmatched.

Styles, pushes, spots, tricks and clothing are all subject to critique by peers or fans; and, with those last two in mind, the name Elijah Berle evokes the image of him championing the nosegrind pop-in and the phrase ‘outfit crisis’.

Considering the days of stair hammers and skinny jeans, the post-Fully Flared flannel and tech takeover or the low-impact influx of recent years; adhering to the zeitgeist is rife for the everyday skateboarder and, simply, more recognisable for those in the spotlight. But going back to the beginning of Elijah’s career, one person stands out as impactful, to say the least, and that’s Corey Duffel. 

“When you see footage of Elijah at 14, you’d think he was 18. He was probably six feet tall. I saw a sponsor me tape he sent to Foundation and you could clearly see he was influenced by Cataclysmic Abyss. The tight black pants, the small black shirt and chomping on rails,” begins the Duffman.

“At 14 he had already done a backside salad grind down the Jamie Thomas ‘one more time’ rail from Misled Youth, the one Jamie 5-0s and he puts his hand up for another, and I thought, “Fucking hell, who is this kid?”” laughs Corey.

Elijah Berle Corey Duffel Interview Welcome Skate Store Quote 1Foundation began flowing Elijah boards shortly afterwards and he and Corey instantly clicked when they met. “He felt like a little brother,” says Corey, warmly. By the time he was 16, Elijah frequently stayed with Corey and his wife for weeks on end. “I’ve got like five photos [from back then] and seeing him as little baby Elijah is hilarious,” he laughs, adding he even taught Elijah how to ride a motorcycle outside his house. 

“He showed no caution whatsoever. It was actually intimidating skating with him because he was going so hard. You’d take him to a spot and he could do anything there. I remember watching him do a nosegrind nollie flip on this rail by my place. It’s a rail most of us would do 5050s on. Nothing was safe around him and he was having fun the whole time.”

Standing out with pop and power, Corey remembers: “Elijah was doing 5050s up handrails as a 16 year old. He didn’t skate like a kid. He skated like a man and, obviously if you look at his footage now, he still skates like a fucking man.”

“We’d fuck with him, as he was the ‘kid’ [on the team], but Elijah was big and could probably stomp out any of us so I don’t think anyone had the balls to pick on him,” chuckles Corey, reflecting on Elijah’s relationship with the rest of the Foundation crew.

Elijah Berle Munich Germany photo Anthony Acosta Vans Welcome Skate Store Corey Duffel InterviewPhoto: Anthony Acosta

However, he didn’t meet entirely eye-to-eye with Foundation’s team manager, Mike Sinclair, which Corey feels contributed to Elijah leaving Foundation after being told the team “didn’t need to two Duffels.”

“He wanted to ride for Foundation, and was enjoying it, but he was told to change up his attire. To tell a 16 year-old how to dress was so rude. That really pushed Elijah to think, “I’ll do, dress and skate however I want.” It sparked him from that moment on,” says Corey.

“You’re confused at 16. Maybe not confused but whether you think you’re original or not you’re just doing your own thing. At least Elijah thought that so to tell him, “You can’t wear tight jeans,” was so childish because, in a year or two, Elijah wasn’t going to continue to dress how I was. He was going to go into his own direction momentarily. You just have to show support for people and allow them to blossom into their own.”

According to Corey, Elijah was kicked off Foundation for riding an Alien Workshop board in an Osiris commercial (although he called it “a mutual breakup” in a 2010 TWS Interview). “It frustrated me so much that I didn’t want to dig into it. Then when he told me Rick [Howard] and Mike [Carroll] wanted to send him boards I thought, “It’s a blessing in disguise.””

Entering Tampa Am, as a flow rider for Chocolate and Vans in 2010, Elijah took first place. “He was grinding up an eight-stair rail in his line and I don’t think he was fully going for it either,” says Corey.  “That line looked like a first try goof off. It didn’t look serious for him. I don’t think he’s even put out a full 100% video part yet, I think he’s still kind of goofing off.”

Elijah Berle Kickflip San Pedro California photo Anthony Acosta Vans Welcome Skate Store Corey Duffel InterviewElijah, ever the anti-authoritarian, kickflips over some slatted wood in blatant disregard of directional street signage. Photo: Acosta

Two years later, Elijah’s first section under the Crailtap camp came with Pretty Sweet, turning pro off the back of it the following summer. “Most of that was filmed before he was actually ‘on’ Chocolate. He was still flow at the time. Girl and Chocolate want to make sure you really vibe in before they put you on the team,” adds Corey.

Elijah’s look and approach since Pretty Sweet is, arguably, his most identifiable - an ATV decked out in work pants and flannel; with a brash approach taken up a notch in Propeller as he tanks through ditches and LA back lots. Raised in a melting pot of Santa Monica heritage (his childhood home a block away from the Triple Set and stone’s throw from the Courthouse ledges, plus, his mum regularly surfs at the Santa Monica Pier), Corey feels Circle Jerks couldn’t have been a more fitting soundtrack for his Propeller part. “Him skating to a Southern Californian punk band with a two-and-a-half-minute part of nothing but hammers was just raw.

“The flannel, the beanie, the wifebeater - where it’s basically 95 degrees at all times? I love it. He embraces it and he’s fully got that surf local vibe,” says Corey.

Elijah Berle Backside Air Transfer Venice photo Anthony Acosta Vans Welcome Skate Store Corey Duffel InterviewWhile the bodybuilders of Venice Beach might think they're the main attraction, it's a well known fact Elijah's tough guy panache makes knees go weak as soon the shirt comes off. Backside air transfer. Photo: Acosta

Despite not sharing a sponsor for over ten years, and seeing each other less often nowadays, Corey and Elijah’s friendship has maintained the same big brother/little brother dynamic. “When he got on Fucking Awesome I was like, “Hey, you dick - you’re ditching Mike and Rick?,” laughs Corey.

Pointing out that, with his new sponsor and crew, Elijah is starting to resemble one of The Outsiders in a pair of powerful trousers, Corey says: “I think it’s cool and innocent that Elijah changes it up a bit with who he’s hanging around. He’s always been true to himself but he’s clearly inspired by people. You should always take inspiration from people and I think it’s a beautiful thing to see.

“If he wants to change it up and wear pants with smiley faces all over them - and someone wants to talk trash on it - why? Is it lame because he wants to do something different?

“There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s still doing it 100% his own way. There’s nobody else on those FA brands that skates or looks like him. You can’t compare Sean Pablo to Elijah Berle.”

Elijah Berle 360 Flip Sunland California photo Anthony Acosta Vans Welcome Skate Store Corey Duffel InterviewElijah dropped out of high school. However, his time bunking calculous to size up the schoolyard's picnic tables clearly proved to be useful later in life. 360 flip. Photo: Acosta

Asked whether there’s anything significant which people might not know about Elijah, Corey says nothing springs to mind which isn’t already out there, but affirms: “He’s never become too cool, or too big for his boots, and all his OG friends say the same thing too.”

Corey’s wife, Rachel, says Elijah “was a little brat but always sweet,” who consistently drops whatever he’s doing when he bumps into the Duffels. “He even introduced us to his girlfriend as ‘his other mom and dad’ at the “BLESSED” premiere,” she adds.

Reminiscing over the days when Elijah would occupy the Duffel residence, Corey recalls: “There was never a time where he wasn’t stoked and I still see that same smile, and that same kid, in all of his footage and whenever I see him now.”

Elijah Berle Portrait ELA California photo Anthony Acosta Vans Welcome Skate Store Corey Duffel Interview

Words by Farran Golding

Thanks to Corey Duffel for his time, Neil McDonald (@ScienceVsLife) for helping make this happen and Anthony Acosta for the photos (opening shot by Michael Burnett).

Grab yourself a pair of the Vans Berle Pro in Rumba Red, STV Navy or Black - you'll have to find yourself a crisp white vest elsewhere though.

Boards and other profanity from Fucking Awesome available in-store and online.

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